Dear Joe Sanchez,
Your article on the evolution of online social environments is quite interesting. I was not aware that some of the most popular online environments today actually evolved from online games that were created quite a while back in time. Moving past the practical side of the development of the worlds, I believe that we can see a slow evolution occurring in terms of the impetus for taking part in such activities. Chronologically, the the first environments were Multi User Dungeons and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Games. The key link between all of the environments here is that fundamentally their is a game involved. Or in other words their is a common goal that helps to bring everyone together. This can be fighting an evil force to rescuing someone as you mentioned in your article.
However, the more recent virtual worlds and environments do not contain a game or common goal that drives participation. Yet, so many people still join and spend hours upon hours in these worlds. Realizing this, I do believe that there is something else uniting all of these individuals together. Upon further consideration, I do agree with your statements about the fact that the social networks that can be created are the most likely cause for continued use of such environments. The feeling of belonging that working as a team in a game can bring out does seem to be quite a powerful motivator. Expanding this feeling beyond the game play would appear to capture the attention of more and more people. Additionally, I agree that since connections such as these can be made, the virtual worlds are almost paralleling the real world in certain respects. This can offer the users a second escape should they need it from the real world. All in all though, there does certainly seem to be an evolution in terms of virtual worlds developing and their use.